Tag Archives: Writing

HOW TO WRITE A BOOK: JERRY B. JENKINS TELLS EVERYTHING IN 20 STEPS

Great stories—well told—really change the world. No one understands this better than Jerry B. Jenkins. Over 40 years, he’s authored story art. Jerry Jenkins’ messages have life-shifted millions because he speaks the truth—in fact and in fiction. An insatiable learner, Jerry’s passion for prose astonishingly rendered 186 books (and counting) including the best-selling Left Behind series. 21 of Jerry Jenkins’ books hit the New York Times bestseller list. 7 debuted at number one. Here, Jerry B. Jenkins tells you how to write a book in 20 steps.

Jerry Jenkins is a prolific writer—right across the spectrum. He’s written stand-alones, biographies, adult and children’s fiction as well as Christian education, devotion and documentary works. Jerry’s even penned mysteries and thrillers. Jerry Jenkins now devotes time to helping others improve their craft and realize full potential. He’s a mentor to many—a role model to all.

I was flattered—actually astonished—getting a recent unsolicited email from Jerry Jenkins’ marketing team. They recognized DyingWords as a credible blog and writing resource. We had a great exchange. This led to a mentoring inclusion in Jerry’s Writers Guild. It’s a phenomenal club with sound writing guidance and top resource people including personal online time with Jerry Jenkins. And Jerry graciously shared his newly-published writing guide as a DyingWords guest post.

Here’s Jerry B. Jenkins’ fascinating guide originally published on JerryJenkins.com. It’s called How to Write a Book: Everything You Need to Know in 20 Steps.

*   *   *

So you want to write a book.

Becoming an author can change your life—not to mention give you the ability to impact thousands, even millions, of people. However, writing a book is no cakewalk. As a 21-time New York Times Bestselling author, I can tell you: It’s far easier to quit than to finish. When you run out of ideas, when your own message bores you, or when you become overwhelmed by the sheer scope of the task, you’re going to be tempted give up.

But what if you knew exactly:

  • Where to start…
  • What each step entails…
  • How to overcome fear, procrastination, and writer’s block…
  • And how to keep from feeling overwhelmed?

You can do this—and more quickly than you might think, because these days you have access to more writing tools than ever. The key is to follow a proven, straightforward, step-by-step plan. My goal here is to offer you that plan.

I’ve used the techniques I outline below to write more than 180 books (including the Left Behind series) over the past 40 years. Yes, I realize averaging over four books per year is more than you may have thought humanly possible. But trust me—with a reliable blueprint, you can get unstuck and finish your book. This is my personal approach to how to write a book. I’m confident you’ll find something here that can change the game for you. So, let’s jump in.

Part One: Before You Begin

You’ll never regret—in fact, you’ll thank yourself later—for investing the time necessary to prepare for such a monumental task. You wouldn’t set out to cut down a huge grove of trees with just an axe. You’d need a chain saw, perhaps more than one. Something to keep them sharp. Enough fuel to keep them running. You get the picture. Don’t shortcut this foundational part of the process.

1. Establish your writing space

To write your book, you don’t need a sanctuary. In fact, I started my career on my couch facing a typewriter perched on a plank of wood suspended by two kitchen chairs.

What were you saying about your setup again? We do what we have to do. And those early days on that sagging couch were among the most productive of my career. Naturally, the nicer and more comfortable and private you can make your writing lair (I call mine my cave), the better. (If you dedicate a room solely to your writing, you can even write off a portion of your home mortgage, taxes, and insurance proportionate to that space.)

Real writers can write anywhere. Some write in restaurants and coffee shops. My first fulltime job was at a newspaper where 40 of us clacked away on manual typewriters in one big room—no cubicles, no partitions, conversations hollered over the din, most of my colleagues smoking, teletype machines clattering. Cut your writing teeth in an environment like that, and anywhere else seems glorious.

2. Assemble your writing tools.

In the newspaper business, there was no time to handwrite our stuff and then type it for the layout guys. So I have always written at a keyboard. Most authors do, though some handwrite their first drafts and then keyboard them onto a computer or pay someone to do that.

No publisher I know would even consider a typewritten manuscript, let alone one submitted in handwriting. The publishing industry runs on Microsoft Word, so you’ll need to submit Word document files. Whether you prefer a Mac or a PC, both will produce the kinds of files you need.

And if you’re looking for a muscle-bound electronic organizing system, you can’t do better than Scrivener. It works well on both PCs and Macs, and it nicely interacts with Word files.

Just remember, Scrivener has a steep learning curve, so familiarize yourself with it before you start writing. Scrivener users know that taking the time to learn the basics is well worth it.

So, what else do you need? If you are one who handwrites your first drafts, don’t scrimp on paper, pencils, or erasers. Don’t shortchange yourself on a computer either. Even if someone else is keyboarding for you, you’ll need a computer for research and for communicating with potential agents, editors, publishers. Get the best computer you can afford, the latest, the one with the most capacity and speed.

Try to imagine everything you’re going to need in addition to your desk or table, so you can equip yourself in advance and don’t have to keep interrupting your work to find things like:

  • Staplers
  • Paper clips
  • Rulers
  • Pencil holders
  • Pencil sharpeners
  • Note pads
  • Printing paper
  • Paperweight
  • Tape dispensers
  • Cork or bulletin boards
  • Clocks
  • Bookends
  • Reference works
  • Space heaters
  • Fans
  • Lamps
  • Beverage mugs
  • Napkins
  • Tissues
  • You name it

Last, but most crucial, get the best, most ergonomic chair you can afford. If I were to start my career again with that typewriter on a plank, I would not sit on that couch. I’d grab another straight-backed kitchen chair or something similar and be proactive about my posture and maintaining a healthy spine. There’s nothing worse than trying to be creative and immerse yourself in writing while you’re in agony. The chair I work in today cost more than my first car!

If you’ve never used some of the items I listed above and can’t imagine needing them, fine. But make a list of everything you know you’ll need so when the actual writing begins, you’re already equipped. As you grow as a writer and actually start making money at it, you can keep upgrading your writing space. Where I work now is light years from where I started. But the point is, I didn’t wait to start writing until I could have a great spot in which to do it.

3. Break the project into small pieces.

Writing a book feels like a colossal project because it is! But your manuscript will be made up of many small parts. An old adage says that the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Try to get your mind off your book as a 400-or-so-page monstrosity. It can’t be written all at once any more than that proverbial elephant could be eaten in a single sitting.

See your book for what it is: a manuscript made up of sentences, paragraphs, pages. Those pages will begin to add up, and though after a week you may have barely accumulated double digits, a few months down the road you’ll be into your second hundred pages. So keep it simple.

Start by distilling your big book idea from a page or so to a single sentence—your premise. The more specific that one-sentence premise, the more it will keep you focused while you’re writing. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before you can turn your big idea into one sentence, which can then be expanded to an outline, you have to settle on exactly what that big idea is.

4. Settle on your BIG idea.

To be book-worthy, your idea has to be killer. You need to write something about which you’re passionate, something that gets you up in the morning, draws you to the keyboard, and keeps you there. It should excite not only you but also anyone you tell about it. I can’t overstate the importance of this.

If you’ve tried and failed to finish your book before—maybe more than once—it could be that the basic premise was flawed. Maybe it was worth a blog post or an article but couldn’t carry an entire book.

Think The Hunger GamesHarry Potter, or How to Win Friends and Influence PeopleThe market is crowded, the competition fierce. There’s no more room for run-of-the-mill ideas. Your premise alone should make readers salivate.

Go for the big concept book. How do you know you’ve got a winner? Does it have legs? In other words, does it stay in your mind, growing and developing every time you think of it? Run it past loved ones and others you trust. Does it raise eyebrows? Elicit Wows? Or does it result in awkward silences?

The right concept simply works, and you’ll know it when you land on it. Most importantly, your idea must capture you in such a way that you’re compelled to write it. Otherwise, you’ll lose interest halfway through and never finish.

5. Construct your outline.

Starting your writing without a clear vision of where you’re going will usually end in disaster. Even if you’re writing fiction and consider yourself a Pantser* as opposed to an Outliner, you need at least a basic structure. [*Those of us who write by the seat of our pants and, as Stephen King advises, put interesting characters in difficult situations and write to find out what happens]

You don’t have to call it an outline if that offends your sensibilities. But fashion some sort of a directional document that provides structure and also serves as a safety net. If you get out on that Pantser highwire and lose your balance, you’ll thank me for advising you to have this in place.

Now if you’re writing a nonfiction book, there’s no substitute for an outline. Potential agents or publishers require this in your proposal. They want to know where you’re going, and they want to know that you know. What do you want your reader to learn from your book, and how will you ensure they learn it?

Fiction or nonfiction, if you commonly lose interest in your book somewhere in what I call the Marathon of the Middle, you likely didn’t start with enough exciting ideas.

That’s why an outline (or a basic framework) is essential. Don’t even start writing until you’re confident your structure will hold up through the end. You may recognize this novel structure illustration.

Did you know it holds up—with only slight adaptations—for nonfiction books too? It’s self-explanatory for novelists; they list their plot twists and developments and arrange them in an order that best serves to increase tension.

What separates great nonfiction from mediocre? The same structure! Arrange your points and evidence in the same way so you’re setting your reader up for a huge payoff, and then make sure you deliver.

If your nonfiction book is a memoir, an autobiography, or a biography, structure it like a novel and you can’t go wrong. But even if it’s a straightforward how-to book, stay as close to this structure as possible, and you’ll see your manuscript come alive.

Make promises early, triggering your reader to anticipate fresh ideas, secrets, inside information, something major that will make him thrilled with the finished product. While you may not have as much action or dialogue or character development as your novelist counterpart, your crises and tension can come from showing where people have failed before and how you’re going to ensure your reader will succeed. You can even make the how-to project look impossible until you pay off that setup with your unique solution.

Keep your outline to a single page for now. But make sure every major point is represented, so you’ll always know where you’re going. And don’t worry if you’ve forgotten the basics of classic outlining or have never felt comfortable with the concept. Your outline must serve you. If that means Roman numerals and capital and lowercase letters and then Arabic numerals, you can certainly fashion it that way. But if you just want a list of sentences that synopsize your idea, that’s fine too.

Simply start with your working title, then your premise, then—for fiction, list all the major scenes that fit into the rough structure above. For nonfiction, try to come up with chapter titles and a sentence or two of what each chapter will cover. Once you have your one-page outline, remember it is a fluid document meant to serve you and your book. Expand it, change it, play with it as you see fit—even during the writing process.

6. Set a firm writing schedule.

Ideally, you want to schedule at least six hours per week to write. That may consist of three sessions of two hours each, two sessions of three hours, or six one-hour sessions—whatever works for you. I recommend a regular pattern (same times, same days) that can most easily become a habit. But if that’s impossible, just make sure you carve out at least six hours so you can see real progress.

Having trouble finding the time to write a book? News flash—you won’t find the time. You have to make it.

I used the phrase carve out above for a reason. That’s what it takes. Something in your calendar will likely have to be sacrificed in the interest of writing time. Make sure it’s not your family—they should always be your top priority. Never sacrifice your family on the altar of your writing career. But beyond that, the truth is that we all find time for what we really want to do.

Many writers insist they have no time to write, but they always seem to catch the latest Netflix original series or go to the next big Hollywood feature. They enjoy concerts, parties, ball games, whatever.

How important is it to you to finally write your book? What will you cut from your calendar each week to ensure you give it the time it deserves?

  • A favorite TV show?
  • An hour of sleep per night? (Be careful with this one; rest is crucial to a writer.)
  • A movie?
  • A concert?
  • A party?

Successful writers make time to write. When writing becomes a habit, you’ll be on your way.

7. Establish a sacred deadline.

Without deadlines, I rarely get anything done. I need that motivation. Admittedly, my deadlines are now established in my contracts from publishers. If you’re writing your first book, you probably don’t have a contract yet. To ensure you finish your book, set your own deadline—then consider it sacred.

Tell your spouse or loved one or trusted friend. Ask that they hold you accountable. Now determine—and enter in your calendar—the number of pages you need to produce per writing session to meet your deadline. If it proves unrealistic, change the deadline now.

If you have no idea how many pages or words you typically produce per session, you may have to experiment before you finalize those figures. Say you want to finish a 400-page manuscript by this time next year. Divide 400 by 50 weeks (accounting for two off-weeks), and you get eight pages per week. Divide that by your typical number of writing sessions per week and you’ll know how many pages you should finish per session. Now is the time to adjust these numbers while setting your deadline and determining your pages per session.

Maybe you’d rather schedule four off weeks over the next year. Or you know your book will be unusually long. Change the numbers to make it realistic and doable, and then lock it in. Remember, your deadline is sacred.

8. Embrace procrastination (Really!)

You read that right. Don’t fight it; embrace it. You wouldn’t guess it from my 190+ published books, but I’m the king of procrastinators. Surprised? Don’t be. So many authors are procrastinators that I’ve come to wonder if it’s a prerequisite. The secret is to accept it and, in fact, schedule it.

I quit fretting and losing sleep over procrastinating when I realized it was inevitable and predictable, and also that it was productive. Sound like rationalization? Maybe it was at first. But I learned that while I’m putting off the writing, my subconscious is working on my book. It’s a part of the process. When you do start writing again, you’ll enjoy the surprises your subconscious reveals to you.

So, knowing procrastination is coming, book it on your calendar. Take it into account when you’re determining your page quotas. If you have to go back in and increase the number of pages you need to produce per session, do that (I still do it all the time). But—and here’s the key—you must never let things get to where that number of pages per day exceeds your capacity.

It’s one thing to ratchet up your output from two pages per session to three. But if you let it get out of hand, you’ve violated the sacredness of your deadline. How can I procrastinate and still meet more than 190 deadlines? Because I keep the deadlines sacred.

9. Eliminate distractions to stay focused.

Are you as easily distracted as I am? Have you found yourself writing a sentence and then checking your email? Writing another and checking Facebook? Getting caught up in the come-ons for pictures of the 10 Sea Monsters You Wouldn’t Believe Actually Exist? Then you just have to check out that precious video from a talk show where the dad surprises the family by returning from the war. That leads to more and more of the same. Once I’m in, my writing is forgotten, and all of a sudden the day has gotten away from me.

The answer to these insidious time wasters? Look into these apps that allow you to block your email, social media, browsers, game apps, whatever you wish during the hours you want to write. Some carry a modest fee, others are free.

10. Conduct your research.

Yes, research is a vital part of the process, whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction.

Fiction means more than just making up a story. Your details and logic and technical and historical details must be right for your novel to be believable. And for nonfiction, even if you’re writing about a subject in which you’re an expert—as I’m doing here—you’ll be surprised how ensuring you get all the facts right will polish your finished product.

In fact, you’d be surprised at how many times I’ve researched a fact or two while writing this blog post alone. The last thing you want is even a small mistake due to your lack of proper research.

Regardless the detail, trust me, you’ll hear from readers about it. Your credibility as an author and an expert hinges on creating trust with your reader. That dissolves in a hurry if you commit an error.

My favorite research resources are:

  • World Almanacs: These alone list almost everything you need for accurate prose: facts, data, government information, and more. For my novels, I often use these to come up with ethnically accurate character names.
  • The Merriam-Webster Thesaurus: The online version is great because it’s lightning fast. You couldn’t turn the pages of a hard copy as quickly as you can get where you want to onscreen. One caution: Never let it be obvious you’ve consulted a thesaurus. You’re not looking for the exotic word that jumps off the page. You’re looking for that common word that’s on the tip of your tongue.
  • WorldAtlas.com: Here you’ll find nearly limitless information about any continent, country, region, city, town, or village. Names, monetary units, weather patterns, tourism info, and even facts you wouldn’t have thought to search for. I get ideas when I’m digging here, for both my novels and my nonfiction books.

11. Start calling yourself a writer.

Your inner voice may tell you, “You’re no writer and you never will be. What do you think you’re doing, trying to write a book?That may be why you’ve stalled at writing your book in the past. But if you’re working at writing, studying writing, practicing writing, that makes you a writer. Don’t wait till you reach some artificial level of accomplishment before calling yourself a writer.

A cop in uniform and on duty is a cop whether he’s actively enforced the law yet or not. A carpenter is a carpenter whether he’s ever built a house. Self-identify as a writer now and you’ll silence that inner critic—who, of course, is really you. Talk back to yourself if you must. It may sound silly, but acknowledging yourself as a writer can give you the confidence to keep going and finish your book.

Are you a writer? Say so.

Part Two: The Writing Itself

12. Think reader first.

This is so important that you should write it on a sticky note and affix it to your monitor so you’re reminded of it every time you write. Every decision you make about your manuscript must be run through this filter. Not you-first, not book-first, not editor-first, agent-first, or publisher-first. Certainly not your inner circle or critics-first. Reader-first, last, and always.

If every decision is based on the idea of reader-first, all those others benefit anyway. When fans tell me they were moved by one of my books, I think back to this adage and am grateful I maintained that posture during the writing.

Does a scene bore you? If you’re thinking reader-first, it gets overhauled or deleted. Where to go, what to say, what to write next? Decide based on the reader as your priority. Whatever your gut tells you your reader would prefer, that’s your answer. Whatever will intrigue him, move him, keep him reading, those are your marching orders.

So, naturally, you need to know your reader. Rough age? General interests? Loves? Hates? Attention span? When in doubt, look in the mirror. The surest way to please your reader is to please yourself. Write what you would want to read and trust there is a broad readership out there that agrees.

13. Find your writing voice.

Discovering your voice is nowhere near as complicated as some make it out to be. You can find yours by answering these quick questions:

  1. What’s the coolest thing that ever happened to you?
  2. Who’s the most important person you told about it?
  3. What did you sound like when you did?

That’s your writing voice. It should read the way you sound at your most engaged. That’s all there is to it. If you write fiction and the narrator of your book isn’t you, go through the three-question exercise on the narrator’s behalf—and you’ll quickly master the voice.

Here’s a blog I posted that’ll walk you through the process.

14. Write a compelling opener.

If you’re stuck because of the pressure of crafting the perfect opening line, you’re not alone.

And neither is your angst misplaced. This is not something you should put off and come back to once you’ve started on the rest of the first chapter.

Oh, it can still change if the story dictates that. But settling on a good one will really get you off and running. It’s unlikely you’ll write a more important sentence than your first one, whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction. Make sure you’re thrilled with it and then watch how your confidence—and momentum—soars.

Most great first lines fall into one of these categories:

Surprising

Fiction: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” —George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

Nonfiction: “By the time Eustace Conway was seven years old, he could throw a knife accurately enough to nail a chipmunk to a tree.” —Elizabeth Gilbert, The Last American Man

Dramatic Statement

Fiction: “They shoot the white girl first.” —Toni Morrison, Paradise

Nonfiction: “I was five years old the first time I ever set foot in prison.” —Jimmy Santiago Baca, A Place to Stand

Philosophical

Fiction: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” —Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Nonfiction: “It’s not about you.” —Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life

Poetic

Fiction: “When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon. —James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss

Nonfiction: “The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there.’” —Truman Capote, In Cold Blood

Great opening lines from other classics may give you ideas for yours.

Here’s a list of famous openers.

15. Fill your story with conflict and tension.

Your reader craves conflict, and yes, this applies to nonfiction readers as well. In a novel, if everything is going well and everyone is agreeing, your reader will soon lose interest and find something else to do—like watching paint dry.

Are two of your characters talking at the dinner table? Have one say something that makes the other storm out. Some deep-seeded rift in their relationship has surfaced. Is it just a  misunderstanding that has snowballed into an injustice? Thrust people into conflict with each other. That’ll keep your reader’s attention.

Certain nonfiction genres won’t lend themselves to that kind of conflict, of course, but you can still inject tension by setting up your reader for a payoff in later chapters. Check out some of the current bestselling nonfiction works to see how writers accomplish this. Somehow they keep you turning those pages, even in a simple how-to title.

Tension is the secret sauce that will propel your reader through to the end. And sometimes that’s as simple as implying something to come.

16. Turn off your internal editor while writing the first draft.

Many of us are perfectionists and find it hard to get a first draft written—fiction or nonfiction—without feeling compelled to make every sentence exactly the way we want it. That voice in your head that questions every word, every phrase, every sentence, and makes you worry you’re being redundant or have allowed cliches to creep in—well, that’s just your editor alter ego.

He or she needs to be told to shut up. This is not easy. Deep as I am into a long career, I still have to remind myself of this every writing day. I cannot be both creator and editor at the same time. That slows me to a crawl, and my first draft of even one brief chapter could take days. Our job when writing that first draft is to get down the story or the message or the teaching—depending on your genre.

It helps me to view that rough draft as a slab of meat I will carve tomorrow. I can’t both produce that hunk and trim it at the same time. A cliche, a redundancy, a hackneyed phrase comes tumbling out of my keyboard, and I start wondering whether I’ve forgotten to engage the reader’s senses or aimed for his emotions.

That’s when I have to chastise myself and say, “No! Don’t worry about that now! First thing tomorrow you get to tear this thing up and put it back together again to your heart’s content!” Imagine yourself wearing different hats for different tasks, if that helps—whatever works to keep you rolling on that rough draft. You don’t need to show it to your worst enemy or even your dearest love. This chore is about creating. Don’t let anything slow you down.

Some like to write their entire first draft before attacking the revision. As I say, whatever works. Doing it that way would make me worry I’ve missed something major early that will cause a complete rewrite when I discover it months later. I alternate creating and revising.

The first thing I do every morning is a heavy edit and rewrite of whatever I wrote the day before. If that’s ten pages, so be it. I put my perfectionist hat on and grab my paring knife and trim that slab of meat until I’m happy with every word. Then I switch hats, tell Perfectionist Me to take the rest of the day off, and I start producing rough pages again.

So, for me, when I’ve finished the entire first draft, it’s actually a second draft because I have already revised and polished it in chunks every day. THEN I go back through the entire manuscript one more time, scouring it for anything I missed or omitted, being sure to engage the reader’s senses and heart, and making sure the whole thing holds together.

I do not submit anything I’m not entirely thrilled with. I know there’s still an editing process it will will go through at the publisher, but my goal is to make my manuscript the absolute best I can before they see it.

Compartmentalize your writing vs. your revising and you’ll find that frees you to create much more quickly.

17. Preservere through The Marathon of the Middle.

Most who fail at writing a book tell me they give up somewhere in what I like to call The Marathon of the Middle. That’s a particularly rough stretch for novelists who have a great concept, a stunning opener, and they can’t wait to get to the dramatic ending. But they bail when they realize they don’t have enough cool stuff to fill the middle. They start padding, trying to add scenes just for the sake of bulk, but they’re soon bored and know readers will be too. This actually happens to nonfiction writers too.

The solution there is in the outlining stage, being sure your middle points and chapters are every bit as valuable and magnetic as the first and last. If you strategize the progression of your points or steps in a process—depending on nonfiction genre—you should be able to eliminate the strain in the middle chapters.

For novelists, know that every book becomes a challenge a few chapters in. The shine wears off, keeping the pace and tension gets harder, and it’s easy to run out of steam. But that’s not the time to quit. Force yourself back to your structure, come up with a subplot if necessary, but do whatever you need to so your reader stays engaged.

Fiction writer or nonfiction author, The Marathon of the Middle is when you must remember why you started this journey in the first place. It isn’t just that you want to be an author. You have something to say. You want to reach the masses with your message.

Yes, it’s hard. It still is for me—every time. But don’t panic or do anything rash, like surrendering. Embrace the challenge of the middle as part of the process. If it were easy, anyone could do it.

18. Write a resounding ending.

This is just as important for your nonfiction book as your novel. It may not be as dramatic or emotional, but it could be—especially if you’re writing a memoir. But even a how-to or self-help book needs to close with a resounding thud, the way a Broadway theater curtain meets the floor.

How do you ensure your ending doesn’t fizzle?

  • Don’t rush it. Give readers the payoff they’ve been promised. They’ve invested in you and your book the whole way. Take the time to make it satisfying.
  • Never settle for close enough just because you’re eager to be finished. Wait till you’re thrilled with every word, and keep revising until you are.
  • If it’s unpredictable, it had better be fair and logical so your reader doesn’t feel cheated. You want him to be delighted with the surprise, not tricked.
  • If you have multiple ideas for how your book should end, go for the heart rather than the head, even in nonfiction. Readers most remember what moves them.

Part Three: All Writing Is Rewriting

19. Become a ferocious self-editor.

Agents and editors can tell within the first two pages whether your manuscript is worthy of further consideration. That sounds unfair, and maybe it is. But it’s also reality, so we writers need to face it.

How can they often decide that quickly on something you’ve devoted months, maybe years, to?

Because they can almost immediately envision how much editing would be required to make those first couple of pages publishable. If they decide the investment wouldn’t make economic sense for a 300-400-page manuscript, end of story.

Your best bet to keep an agent or editor reading your manuscript? You must become a ferocious self-editor. That means:

  • Omit needless words
  • Choose the simple word over one that requires a dictionary
  • Avoid subtle redundancies, like “He thought in his mind…” (Where else would someone think?)
  • Avoid hedging verbs like almost frowned, sort of jumped, etc.
  • Generally remove the word that—use it only when absolutely necessary for clarity
  • Give the reader credit and resist the urge to explain, as in, “She walked through the open door.” (Did we need to be told it was open?)
  • Avoid too much stage direction (what every character is doing with every limb and digit)
  • Avoid excessive adjectives
  • Show, don’t tell
  • And many more

For my full list and how to use them, click here. (It’s free.)

When do you know you’re finished revising? When you’ve gone from making your writing better to merely making it different. That’s not always easy to determine, but it’s what makes you an author.

And Finally—the Quickest Way to Succeed…

20. Find a mentor.

Get help from someone who’s been where you want to be. Imagine engaging a mentor who can help you sidestep all the amateur pitfalls and shave years of painful trial-and-error off your learning curve. Just make sure it’s someone who really knows the writing and publishing world. Many masquerade as mentors and coaches but have never really succeeded themselves.

Look for someone widely-published who knows how to work with agents, editors, and publishers.

There are many helpful mentors online. I teach writers through this free site, as well as in my members-only Writers Guild.

Want to save this definitive 20-Step Guide to read later?

Click here to download a handy PDF version.

TOP TWENTY-TWO TIPS FOR SELF-EDITING

grodgers-deadly-selfedit-cover-ebook-interior-1024pxEvery serious writer must grasp proper editing principles, regardless of their craft — literary fiction, non-fiction, true-crime, forensic and autopsy reports, short stories, essays, blog posts, legal judgements, copywriting, screenplays, employee assessments, business correspondence, requests for laboratory analysis, letters of reference and resignation, agent queries, and… especially when penning a deadly crime thriller. There’s no escape from effective editing because perfection is the mark of a polished professional.

But most of us can’t afford a professional copy editor, let alone paying thousands for a full developmental hand-holding. Learning to competently self-edit takes tremendous effort and amounts to taking a personal scalpel to your work, using the eye of a voyeur and the ruthlessness of an ax murderer. It also pays to have the conscience of a psychopath in being objective.

This weekend I’m releasing the detailed guide How To Self-Edit Deadly Crime Thrillers on Amazon—but I sure as hell didn’t do it alone.

Under Sue Coletta‘s eagle-eyed editing—Sue’s my collaborating, bestselling crime writer—and with contributions from twenty other prominent professional writers and editors, this No BS Guide With 101 Killer Tips is designed to help your self-editing process, no matter what your line of work. It’s simply the best collection of self-editing advice we can find.

From the No BS Guide, here are 22 of the top 101 tips for self-editing.

Tip #22 — Understand Conventional Editing Stages

All editing stages overlap and there are different industry terms for the same thing—lines between each type of edit being blurry rather than bold. The clearest explanation I’ve found comes from Marcy Kennedy, a writer and editor who has her own great series of craft guides. (Check her website on my resource web page.) Click Here

Marcy says:

“To me, there are Development edits and Copy edits. That’s it. Developmental edits address the story structure, the telling of the story, the comprehension of the story, the consistency of the story, and every element that makes the story complete, engaging, and tight. Copy edits do not address story issues. They address grammar, punctuation, spelling, typos, formatting, sentence and paragraph structure, word use, etc. But, a good copy editor will alert an author if development issues still exist.”

Let’s look at how the conventional terms fit in.

Developmental or Macro Editing — Deals with the big picture items in layers 1 – 6 on the pyramid. It’s also called outline, comprehensive critique, substantive review, structural assessment, and content edit. This is a look at story issues—characterization, setting, plot, show vs tell, backstory, POV, dialogue, pacing, goals, stakes, and motivation.

Marcy Kennedy - Writer & Contributing Editor

Marcy Kennedy – Writer & Contributing Editor

Line or Micro Editing — Covers more easily fixed issues like word choice, paragraph flow, awkward sentences, eliminating redundancy, catching clichés, and style quirks. It’s about identifying weak and murky spots. It hovers between levels 4, 5, & 6.

Copy Editing — Makes the manuscript follow the rules of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and word choice in layer 7, but it’s not beyond recognizing problems still living in the lower layers.

Formatting — Gets the manuscript ready for submission to the next set of eyes, whether it’s to another editor, agent, publisher, or uploading to eBook format. It’s taking a complete, working manuscript and making it an acceptable, professional document.

Proof or Script Reading — Corrects typos and other overlooked errors like punctuation, capitalization, numerals, and spacing. No big changes are made at this stage. It’s your last minute check because none of the previous stages will catch everything.

Editing

Tip #21 — Revision vs Editing

You could say all revising is editing, but not all editing is revising. Huh? In that play-on-words, editing is not looked at as changing anything big. By the time you get to the “editing” stage, all the heavy work is done. Take this for what it’s worth, but it fits with two self-editing acronyms you should know:

  1. Revision is ARMS — Add. Remove. Move. Substitute.
  2. Editing is CUPS — Capitalize. Usage. Punctuation. Spelling.

Tip #20 — Four Pillars of Revision

I like this quote, although for the life of me I can’t remember where I got it. Outstanding writers primarily master a limited number of the most important writing principles. While self-editing, pay attention to the four pillars of writing and revision.

  1. Structure — Organizing the order.
  2. Style — Voice. How you write.
  3. Readability — Your presentation.
  4. Grammar — The correct and acceptable form.

Tip #19 — Next-Day Revision

image007You’ll hear advice from seasoned writers, like Stephen King, that it’s best to just bang away at the first draft until it’s done, then go back and start the revision process—rationale being that it’s more important to keep the words flowing. Fix it later, he says. I’m not so sure about that, but then keep in mind that Stephen King has natural story sensibilities, so it works for him. You and I, on the other hand, should probably use a more pro-active approach.

I do next-day revision and all I can say is that it works for me. It keeps me grounded in the story and allows to me look at it with fresh eyes in the morning. On a good day—a really good day—I get around 2,500 words done. When I look at the previous day’s work, I invariably find glaring errors, overwriting, and general structure issues.

It really helps keep the story in perspective. The way I look at it—if you were to peck away until 80K words were done, it’d be a long time since you hid that dwarf in the closet. When you go back over that early chapter in a month or two, you’ll have no frickin’ idea why you stuffed him there in the first place.

Tip #18 — Get Into An Editing Mindset

Writing and editing are two separate processes, each stemming from two different parts of the brain. Writing is mostly subconscious, from the creative right-brain. Editing is consciously done, using the analytical left-brain.

image010When we read our own writing, we tend to not actively read what’s on the screen or page. We see what we intended to write. Something happens in our brain that changes how we see the words. The more familiar we are with our own words, the more difficult it is to spot errors. Because of this subjective view, it’s exceedingly difficult to self-edit if we stay in a writer’s mindset.

There was a research project in the U.K. that tested readers’ ability to read past errors. Because we’ve been conditioned to read the first and last letters in a word, we’re often unaware that we subconsciously absorb reversals of letters. This is inherently compounded when we re-read our own work, as we’re conditioned by already knowing the material, especially if it’s fresh in our mind. This example is an eye-opener:

Tip #17 — Put the Manuscript in a Drawer

You hear this tip from everyone and it’s the frickin’ gospel. Nothing gives you a more objective view of your work than some time off. Most writers suggest taking at least a month after finishing the first (rough) draft before going to even the macro edit. I think two months is better, if your deadline can afford it.

Tip #16 — Less Is More

This is another top tip that writers hear repeatedly. It’s time to repeat it again. With every part of your work, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What do I not need to say?
  2. What job is this doing?
  3. If I remove it, will the piece fall apart?

image011Effective brevity is the mark of a great writer—simplicity and economy. Knowing what to cut—and what not to cut—is a major skill in self-editing. There’s a balance, though, and common sense dictates that purpose calls the shot if a piece stays or goes.

Consider why you placed it. Does it have meaning? Does it carry sound and rhythm, which is the physicality of language? But be careful with this. If you cut simply because the material doesn’t have immediate meaning, you risk missing out on other aspects of language, which is the vehicle of storytelling.

Here’s a great tip from thriller writer Alexandra Sokoloff:

“The most useful tool for editing is a single word:  WHY? Why is my character doing this? Why is my character doing this now? Why is my character doing this here? Why does my character react this way? Why am I writing this scene from this character’s point of view? Why am I choosing these details to describe what my character experiences? Why did I include this? Why? Why? Why?”

Tip #15 — Understand Your Voice

image012Your writing voice is the one thing that’s unique to you. It’s your most valuable asset—so valuable that you should buy some insurance on it. And it’s the one thing you have to get right. Right from the start. It’d be a bitch to go back and self-edit voice, if it can even be done. But what is “Voice”?

It’s your relationship with language—how you use language. Voice comes from the people you’ve met, the books you’ve read, the education you have, and the worlds you’ve inhabited—not just in your body, but in your mind. It’s your personality. It’s your attitude toward your writing. Your passion shining through your prose.

Voice is your distinctive way of choosing and stringing words together—your writing accent, your views, culture, biases, and formal training. It’s using some goddam profanity every now and then. It’s imagery. Being serious, stuffy, snarky, and sarcastic. Being funny, silly, foolish, and stupid. It’s your level of confidence speaking through. Your rhythm, cadence, tone, and mood. It’s your emotional guts spilling out.  It’s relating gut to gut, not brain to brain. No editing in the world can take an intellectual exercise and make it emotional.

Remember, Crime Thrillers aim to evoke emotion in your reader. Get emotional when you write, and then again when you revise. “No tears in the writer. No tears in the reader. No emotion in the reader. No interest in the story.”

I like this definition by Grammar Girl, Mignon Fogarty, who gave me permission to quote her:

A2“Voice is the distinct personality, the style, or the point of view in a piece of writing or any other creative work. Voice is what Simon Cowell is talking about when he tells American Idol contestants to make a song their own and not just do a note-for-note karaoke version. Many musicians have played The Star-Spangled Banner, for instance, but there’s a world of difference between the Boston Pops’ performance and Jimi Hendrix’s, even though the basic melody is the same. In writing, the New York Times and the New York Post may cover the same story, but their headlines are likely to be quite different. For example, when Ike Turner died, the New York Times had a straightforward headline: ‘Ike Turner, Musician and Songwriter in Duo With Tina Turner, Dies at 76’; whereas the New York Post went for a bad pun: ‘Ike Beats Tina to Death’.”

Is there an ideal voice? Nope. But my advice is to lighten up. Personally, I’m not big on sarcasm or stuffiness. Ever go to a party with lawyers and politicians? I have. They’re boring as shit because they’re bound by the restraints of graduate degrees and academic correctness. Ever hang with cops & corners? I have. They’re a blast. They’re like honey badgers. They don’t give a fuck what they say.

A3I like hearing a natural, open, appealing, and charismatic tone and style that draws me in and binds me with storytelling. Ever read foul-mouthed Chuck Wendig? Hilarious crime writer Meg Gardiner? Listen to quadriplegic, blog-king Jon Morrow? Or follow opinionated Johnny B. Truant? Now those folks have a voice. Let’s face it. Some people are just more interesting than others.

Voice is the way you put words to paper. The way you say it. It’s your personality coming alive on the page. It’s not the paint on the wall. It is the wall. Check out a blog post I wrote called 6 Elements of Your Writing Voice. Click Here.

For your work to be successful, your reader has to hear your voice telling the story. Nothing else matters if she can’t relate to your voice. She wants you to sound confident, intelligent, personal, authentic, trustworthy, and even vulnerable. She wants to be your friend and follow you around.

** Here’s Sue’s editing remark and she’s making a good point — “This statement only holds true if writing in omniscient. If you write in deep POV, the reader must hear “the character’s” voice, not the authors. Not sure how you want to clarify this.” **

I think I’ll just let her remark speak for itself. I have yet to write in Deep POV and she’s mastered the technique.

A16

So, when revising, be natural. Don’t overthink. And be careful not to cut your own voice’s throat.

Tip #14 — Brevity

This piece of revising advice is from Joseph Pulitzer:

“Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it, and above all, accurately, so they will be guided by its light.”

And then there’s this beauty from William Strunk, Jr. from Elements of Style. No one has ever captured (in 63 words) the essence of brevity in writing:

A4“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine have no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer makes all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tells.”

This is where the advice, “Resist the urge to explain (RUE)” comes into play. It works with subtext, or what’s best left unsaid, which is a powerful dialogue tool. Say something once and leave it at that. Think superfluous redundancy when editing.

Tip #13 — Look Up Esoteric Words

If you’re going to use hifalutin language, make sure it’s right. Even words you use in everyday, normal speech may be slightly off, but they must be correct in published work. The more audacious you are with language, the more perspicacious you need to be in looking up proper usage. People will only know you should have looked up a word to see what it means if you didn’t.

Do yourself a self-editing favor and keep an online dictionary in your top toolbar. I like Dictionary.com. Click Here

Tip #12 — Little Red Writing Book

One of the best writing, therefore editing, resources I’ve found is The Little Red Writing Book by Brandon Royal. Brandon generously shared this quote:

A5“Making changes to your writing is annoying and grueling. But eventually, with changes made, you will likely be satisfied with what you have written and not want to add or delete anything. This is the point at which your writing is finished—your writing is ‘standing still’. Unpolished writing is like shifting sand in a desert storm. Eventually, the storm ceases and the sand sits still. The word ‘finished’, when referring to writing, should really be enclosed in quotation marks because writing is never actually finished. With respect to writing done for everyday purposes, completion is an end in itself. However, for more permanent written works, such as novels, writing can be continued indefinitely because it can always be improved. Even published books can be reworked and re-edited. Weeks, months, and years after a book is published, an author will invariably contemplate changes.”

I rate The Little Red Writing Book as a resource right up there with The Elements of Style and On Writing. When I contacted Brandon asking permission to use his quote and comparing it to these timeless books, he replied:

A6“Here’s how I compare the red book to The Elements of Style, which of course I like and recommend. The Elements of Style is a short grammar book with some style thrown in. The Little Red Writing Book is a style book (Structure, Style, and Readability) with a little grammar thrown in. An indisputable strength of the red book is that it contains short exercises and proposed solutions. After all, how can we learn writing without doing exercises?”

Click Here for Brandon Royal’s website and view all his works, including his updated The Little Gold Grammar Book.

Tip #11 — Common Commas

It’s said that ninety percent of writers use commas correctly seventy-five percent of the time, but only one percent of writers use commas correctly ninety-nine percent of the time. The advice of using the comma whenever you pause is misleading. The best way to understand commas is that they’re divided into four usage types.

  1. Listing comma — Separates items in a series. “The four main editing processes are rough draft, developmental, copy, and proofread.” The final comma before the word and is optional. It’s called the Oxford or Serial comma. I always use it, because my English teacher drilled it into me, and I’m now too old to change. Besides, you can’t be misunderstood for using it, but leaving it out could get you in trouble. Remember this line — “The highlights of our tour included meeting Nelson Mandela, a ninety-year-old parachutist and a dildo collector.”
  2. Bracketing comma — Sets off parenthetical expressions. “Sue, also a terrific crime writer, is a deadly editor.”
  3. Joining comma — Separates independent clauses connected by coordinating conjunctions such as and, but, yet, or, and for. “The entire No BS Guides will be available in one print-on-demand book, yet most readers will download them electronically.”
  4. Omission comma — Indicates missing words, particularly and. “It was a dark, stormy night.” There’s an interesting way to test this. If you can insert and between dark and stormy, then a comma is required. Also, reverse the words to read, “It was a stormy, dark night.” If the sentence still makes sense, you know a comma is necessary.

Here’s a handy image with twelve comma rules:

image020

Tip #10 — Learn from Other’s Mistakes

I read this in Writers Digest and Chief Editor, Jessica Strawser, allowed me to quote it:

“Wrong-word errors are not only embarrassing but also costly, as publisher Penguin Books Australia can attest. In 2010, they were forced to reprint 7,000 copies of the cookbook Pasta Bible because a recipe called for adding ‘salt and freshly ground black people’ (instead of black pepper). Oops! That slip cost Penguin $20,000 to correct.”

They probably ground up the proofreader.

Tip #9 — Mindset

The right mindset is not just important in self-editing—it’s critical. Writing and editing are solitary disciplines, and it’s human nature to want to socialize. It’s so easy to slip over to Facebook, Tweet something, check email, peek at Pinterest… Here are some bullets of advice that’ll keep your self-editing hat on:

  • It’s a chicken and an egg thing. You can’t be a good self-editor without being a good writer, and you can’t be a good writer without being a good self-editor. Practice makes you better (not perfect). Your goal is to maximize professionalism.
  • A7Set specific time aside for editing. I do prefer to write in the morning and edit in the afternoon. I’m always working on multiple projects and this schedule helps efficiency.
  • Deal with distractions. Shut off the TV and radio. I can’t concentrate with blabbing in the background. Set your cell to voice mail. Put out the cat. Feed the dog. Close the door.
  • Stay off social media. (Yeah, yeah. Easier said than done.) A prominent writer I know uses a separate computer for her writing and self-editing that doesn’t have an internet connection.
  • Some put headphones on and listen to rain sounds and waves, washing on the beach. Try classical, or flute, or harp.
  • Go to a different place than where you write. Public libraries work great, and it puts you out with other (quiet) people. That’s until a birthday party arrives with thirty, five-year-olds accompanied by a balloon-animal tying clown that looks like Pennywise from It. That actually happened to me while I was self-editing this guide.
  • Now I go to a university library where I can’t get wi-fi without a password. I’m not distracted by the web, and I get energized by all the young people and books around me.
  • Get two hats or two vests that say “Writer” and “Editor”. Seriously. I’ve heard of this, and am thinking of trying it myself.
  • Get plenty of rest and exercise.
  • A8Take Hemingway’s advice: “Write drunk. Edit sober.”
  • Focus on what’s best for the book and for the reader, because that will be best for you.
  • Develop thick skin. I had a negative comment on my Huffington Post blog the other day and it irked me. I got up, took a break, accepted that the commenter had a point, and learned from it. Get used to it, because you’re going to get some poor reviews. Sometimes mean people are right.
  • Track your bad habits. I have a problem with tic-words (just, that, then, turn, actually, and like, are my worst) and with tense switching. I’ve written them in red on my whiteboard and on a little yellow sticky-note beside the screen.
  • It’s nearly impossible to “toggle” the creative left brain and instantly make it the analytical right brain. There needs to be a bit of time separation, so take a break between processes. The writer and the editor need to be on vacation from each other.
  • Compartmentalize. Focus on one thing at a time. That’s why the pyramid method is so effective. Speaking of effective—whether you like him or not—Bill Clinton was one of the most effective presidents in getting his daily agenda done, and he attributed it to his ability to compartmentalize tasks.
  • A11Know there’s no “magic bullet” to the art and craft of self-editing. It’s a combination of learning and applying the skills and maintaining a passion. The more editing you do, the better writer you’ll become, and the less editing you’ll have to do as your career advances. And that’s one of the best tips I’ve found.
  • In the Crime Thriller genre, it’s okay to occasionally break the rules. Just know what the rules are and why you’re breaking them when you do.
  • Reading other Crime Thrillers is probably the best way to tune your subconscious to absorb the techniques and structure needed to write and edit in the genre. Go to a used bookstore and buy cheap paperbacks. Red ink the snot out of them. Deconstruct their plots. Listen to their dialogue. Analyze their characters. Their scenes. Their pace.
  • Read widely. Go outside the genre and read classics, sci-fi, or erotica, if it works for you. If you just read what everyone else in the genre is reading, you’re just going to write what everyone else is writing.
  • You’re going to experience self-doubt. We all do. Just keep at it—one word at a time.
  • Be active on social media. Find people like you on the internet. Don’t be afraid to reach out and connect. That’s how Sue and I met. Make Facebook friends. Say Hi on Twitter. Share things. Comment on blogs and encourage others. You’ll find the writing community is exceptionally generous, as long as you’re genuine and also help others.
  • Believe in yourself. If I can write a bestseller, you sure as hell can, too.

AA2

 Tip #8 — Other Practical Stuff

The last tip was mostly theoretical. These next bullets mean to be practical. In no particular order:

  • Put time between stages. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. I think it’s the most important tip. How much? As much as you can.
  • Run electronic spelling and grammar checks first. This quickly finds multiple errors and gets them out of the way, saving time and energy, which you can spend on improving structure, characters, and dialogue—or better yet, working on your next Crime Thriller.
  • Edit in a different medium than you write. Print off your manuscript and red ink it. Go to a different computer screen size. Change the font type or size. Change the spacing. Change the color. Download it as a pdf.
  • Read out loud. Great tip! Works like a hot damn (excuse cliché), especially for dialogue. If you have to breathe more than three times in one paragraph, it’s too long for a Crime Thriller.
  • Ask, “Would anyone really do, think, or say this?”
  • A9Read backward. Weird, but it works. This is because when you write, your brain knows where it wants the next sentence to go. In reverse, the familiar pieces become foreign and your focus improves.
  • Proofread chapters out of order. This takes you out of the story to view it from a different perspective.
  • Proofread line-by-line with a ruler.
  • Proofread one word at a time.
  • Attack show vs. tell with two different colored hi-liters. Use yellow for show and green for tell. Watch the color patterns.
  • Print your margin notes neatly. Nothing’s worse than going back and saying WTF was that about?
  • Double space your working manuscript.
  • Edit while writing. If something is obviously wrong, fix it right then.
  • If something is troubling, but you can’t quite figure out why BOLD IT and move on. Don’t break the flow. It’ll be easy to spot later on.

Tip #7 — Saving Your Work

Okay, this sounds like a no-brainer, but if you’ve ever lost thousands of words because you were too busy/careless/forgetful/stupid to back-up (like I’ve done) you’ll never let that happen to you again. Here are some saving suggestions:

  • Save to the cloud. Simple and foolproof. (Until the cloud crashes)
  • Use an online saver.
  • A12Data sticks. USB sticks. Thumb drives. Flash drives. Whatever you want to call ‘em. Small-bite ones are cheap—actually free as promotions from some vendors. I picked up a box full of 2-Gigs at a trade show.
  • External hard-drives with auto-timed backup. Could be a cheap investment.
  • Hit save often. Every five hundred words or five minutes, whichever comes first.
  • Make each revision a Save-As file with a revision number and date in the title.
  • Make a separate folder for each manuscript rather than storing in general documents.
  • Save in several document formats. I recommend Word, Word.doc, and Rich Text as they format best with outside parties.

Tip #6 — Tap Into Technology

Think about how far we’ve come in writing technology that makes self-editing so, so much simpler—the chisel and tablet, quill pen & ink, ballpoint and legal pad, ribbon typewriter, carbon paper, whiteout, word processor, MS Word, Scrivener, Google Docs, SIGIL, JUTOH, Calibre, WPS Writer, Adobe in Design, Page Plus… what’s coming next?

Here’s a look at tech-stuff I’ve found:

MS Word

  • A13Spend time getting to know the editing features in Word. I’ve tried other software like Scrivener, but it has a steep learning curve. When I found out that your manuscript still has to be reformatted from Scrivener to Word for submissions to an agent or publisher, as well as for HTML formatting as an eBook, I didn’t see much advantage to it. It does have some cool features for organizing your projects, though.
  • The entire publishing industry uses Word. Want to know why? Click Here  Eventually your manuscript is going to be put into Word to become a book, so you might as well get used to it.
  • Get familiar with Track Changes — Accept/Reject, Balloons, Bubbles, Insertions, Deletions, Strike-throughs, Underlines, Show Markup, as well as Final and Original Views.
  • Know the Keyboard Shortcuts for MS Word. This is an immense time saver. Click Here
  • Use WordTips. This website is an excellent resource for using MS Word. Click Here
  • Learn to make self-editing macros — Great stuff at TechTools For Writers. Click Here
  • Use the biggest ass-saver in the system—CTRL+Z—which is Word’s undo feature.

Editing Software

A14There is a lot of software available for both PC and Mac—some free, some expensive—but remember you usually get what you pay for. Here’s a list of the most popular that I’ve found, not in any particular order.

I can only vouch for Grammarly because I downloaded the free version to try out on this manuscript. So far, I love it, but then Sue loves her Word editing feature. Don’t you, Sue? I can’t vouch for any of the others because I haven’t used anything except their demos:

  • Grammarly — Love it. Wouldn’t live without it.
  • StyleWriter4 — Oldest in the business and seems to be the most popular. It’s an add-on for MS Word. Free on 14-day trial.
  • GrammarCheck — Appears excellent. The basic model is free.
  • Ginger — New kid on the block and is stealing the show.
  • StackEdit  — Very sophisticated.
  • Hemingway App — Very popular, especially for blog posts. Works great for brevity.
  • Markable — Sophisticated but user-friendly.
  • Write URL — Simple & free.
  • Quabel — Claims to be distraction-free and lives in your browser, whatever that means.
  • editMinion — Great for first passes and picking up grammar, adverbs, and passive voice. Basic is free.
  • ProWritingAid — Free to 3K words and works with Word & Scrivener. Great for checking blog posts.
  • AutoCrit — Free under 500 words.
  • SmartEdit — Fully free for 10 days.
  • WordRake — Free for 7 days.
  • Wizards For Authors — Templates for novel writing and editing.
  • Cliché Cleaner — Kinda interesting.
  • WriteWords — Word and phrase frequency finder.

Links to these editing software sites are on my website’s resource page. Click Here

Text-To-Speech (TTS) Generators

A15These things are cool on one hand and annoying on the other. You cut & paste your text into them and they audibly read it back to you. Some are great, with different accents and languages. Some are terribly robotic. It’s another “you get what you pay for” thing. In no particular order, here’s some of what’s out there:

  • Adobe Read-Out-Loud — Converts pdf to voice.
  • NaturalReader — Seems high quality.
  • NeoSpeech — Also seems high quality.
  • OddCast — Free demo and multi voices.
  • FromTextToSpeech — Fairly basic.
  • Text2Speech — Free and versatile.
  • YAKiToMe! — Free and easy to use.
  • ReadSpeaker — Sophisticated.
  • Ivona — Amazon’s TTS app.
  • iSpeech — Very high quality.
  • SpokenText — Minimal but free.
  • ImTranslator — Great for English second language writers.

Links to these Text-to-Speech software sites are on my website’s resource page. Click Here

Tip #5 — Editor-Ready Checklist

This tip is shared by freelance editor and author Tanya Egan Gibson who published this Are You Ready for a Freelance Editor eight-point checklist in Writers Digest:

  1. Tanya Egan Gibson - Contributiong Editor

    Tanya Egan Gibson – Contributing Editor

    This is not my first draft of my manuscript. I have written several drafts.

  2. I have waited at least three weeks since writing my last draft and have then reread it.
  3. I honestly feel that my manuscript is as strong as I can make it.
  4. I am ready to hear honest feedback that might require me to do a significant amount of additional work.
  5. I understand that an outside reader’s reaction to what I’ve written may be different from what I intended that piece to convey.
  6. I really want to learn how to make this piece the best it can be—and am willing to do what it takes to accomplish that.
  7. Which of these problems offer the most potential for conflict and drama?
  8. How does this problem affect other characters?

When you can answer “yes” to each point, then you’re ready for other eyes.

Tip #4 — Proofreading

Susanne Lakin - Writer and Contributing Editor

Susanne Lakin – Writer and Contributing Editor

Final proofreading is done after all the other editing steps are complete. Although proofreading is an ongoing process—if you see an obvious error anywhere along the way, it makes sense to correct it then—the real proofread comes after formatting is finished. Keep in mind that copy editing is making sure the content is absolutely right before formatting. Proofreading is about catching small errors after your formatting is done, like these:

  • Spelling, punctuation, and typos.
  • Small grammatical errors.
  • Small stylistic problems.
  • Misused words.
  • Layout errors.
  • Inconsistent spacing in sentences and paragraphs.

Tip #3 — Legal Stuff

Copyright infringements are serious matters and they apply to written content, song lyrics, poetry, verbal quotes, online images, and many other expressions.

A22Copyright protection is a gray area, and the best advice for using someone else’s original material is to simply ask permission. It’s so easy to do in the electronic age. Just send a polite email explaining what you’d like and make sure you offer full attribution for the material.

I’ve done that with every contributor to this guide with the exception where I’ve only referenced and linked their Open Source—Public Domain content. That’s different from directly cutting and pasting into your work. Here’s an example of permission not being necessary, where I simply link to Jane Friedman’s website and her valuable article on the Fair-Use Doctrine. Click Here

You’ll eventually have a copyright page in your published book, regardless if indie or traditional, and it should conform to the standard of the country you’re publishing in. Each country has a slightly different twist on copyright protection, but there is one universal principle that applies. Here’s a Fair-Use quote from the U.S. Patent Office website:

“Copyright does not protect ideas, concepts, systems, or methods of doing something. You may express your ideas in writing or drawings and claim copyright in your description, but be aware that copyright will not protect the idea itself as revealed in your written or artistic work.”

Translation: The words may be yours, but the idea belongs to everyone. There’s a big difference between the general concept of an idea and your unique, written expression.

A23What’s this got to do with tips on self-editing Crime Thrillers? Lots. When using material that came from somewhere else, always ask permission and get it in writing. It’s ass-covering at its worst and tremendous insurance against a lawsuit at its best. After all, you’d expect the same protection for your own unique, written expression.

Tip #2 — Editing Quotes

These are some enlightening quotes from writers that I thought needed sharing. Yes, they all fall under the open source, public domain, and fair-use doctrine.

  • Katerina Klemer — “Manuscript. Meanuscript. Moanuscript. Manurescript. And so on.”
  • Stephen King — “Only God gets it right the first time and only a slob says, ‘Oh well, let it go. That’s what copy editors are for’.”
  • Russel Lynes — “No writer dislikes self-editing as much as they dislike not being published.”
  • Unknown — “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit editing.”
  • C J Cherryh — “It’s perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.”
  • Steve Martin — “The conscious mind is the editor and the subconscious is the writer. The joy of writing from the subconscious is beautiful. It’s thrilling. When you’re editing, which is your conscious mind, it’s like torture.”
  • Anonymous — “The editor’s job is simple. Sort the wheat from the chaff. Point out chaff. Encourage more wheat.”
  • Jaclyn Moriarty — “She promised 3K words to her editor by tomorrow and she’d only written eleven, specifically ‘His rhinoceros smelled like a poppadum: Sweaty, salty, strange, and strong.’ She made it on time, but her editor cut that line.”
  • Eric Benoit — “Not self-editing is the path to the dark side. Not self-editing leads to self-delusion. Self-delusion leads to missed mistakes. Missed mistakes lead to bad reviews. Bad reviews are the tools of the dark side.”
  • Richard Kinlogh — “When I’m writing, I make the words my bitch, but when I’m editing, the words make me their bitch. It all equals out in the end.”
  • Don Rolf — “I’ve found the best way to revise your own work is to pretend that someone else wrote it, then rip the living shit out of it.”
  • Sue Coletta — “An unedited manuscript is a crime scene.”
  • Jarod Kintz — “There are two typos of writers in this world, those who can edit and those who don’t bother.”
  • Dr. Suess — “So the writer who breeds more words than he needs is making a chore for the reader who reads.”

Tip #1 — Trust Your Gut

A24The more you write and the more you self-edit, the more instinctive you’ll become. You’ll inherently know when something’s not working. It doesn’t sound right. It doesn’t look right. It just doesn’t feel right. Trust your gut feeling. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred it’ll be right.

Self-editing is a continuation of your journey, not your end. One book after another, you’ll find it easier to think through editing and developmental issues and work them out for yourself. You’ll grow as an author and as a critical thinker. Your skills will grow stronger and your editing effort will expand beyond merely making your book “work”, but to transcend your genre and influence how people see the world.

And there’s only one editor alive with that type of commitment.

You.

*   *   *

grodgers-deadly-selfedit-cover-ebook-interior-1024pxHow To Self-Edit Deadly Crime Thrillers – A No BS Guide With 101 Killer Tips is now available in Amazon Kindle eBook format. Click Here to download a copy. Don’t let the title fool you, though. It’s primarily aimed at crime-fiction writers but the principles can be applied across the board to all forms of writing.

And I’d like to give a word of thanks to all the contributors: Larry Brooks, Will Buckingham, Renni Browne, Shawn Coyne, Shannon Donnelly, Mignon Fogarty, Dr. Kim Foster, Tanya Egan Gibson, Michael Heibert, Beth Hill, Marcy Kennedy, Susanne Lakin, Jessica Page Morrell, Gabriela Pereira, Brandon Royal, Scarlett Rugers, Alexandra Sokoloff, Jessica Strawser, Sarah Kolb-Williams, and Cathy Yardley. And, of course, the biggest thank-you goes to Sue Coletta for her commitment, hard work, and attention to detail.

grodgers-write-deadly-cover-online-use-3debook-smlAlso, the first book in the How To Write Deadly Crime Fiction Series — How To Write Deadly Crime Thrillers – A No BS Guide With 101 Killer Tips is available FREE on Amazon for a five-day KDPS promotion and, as of this morning, it’s sitting in Amazon’s #1 spot in Writing, Researching & Publishing Guides > Writing > Writing Skills. Click Here to download your FREE copy.

The next guide in the series How To Write Deadly Crime Scenes is in the draft stage and I hope to have it published in the next few weeks. The remainder of the eight guides in the series will be released over the summer of 2016.

ZAP YOUR APP

A1On Christmas eve, marketing guru Seth Godin sent an email link to Zapier’s website. “Zap who?” you ask. So did I, until I opened it and got blown away by what this amazing technology does for writers and online marketers. Zapier is a software integration application that allows over five hundred other apps to mingle efficiently. It “easily connects web apps you already use, making it easy to automate tedious tasks”.

Here’s Seth’s link to Zapier:

Powering A Digital Future With Zapier

A3Now anyone who knows me, knows I’m far from a techie. In fact, I’m a Luddite with a Capital LUD. Just ask my buddy, Jake, who I recently “helped” set up a technological monster called the Security Management System for a commercial marihuana producer.

I grew up in a computerless age and watched the moon landing on a black and white TV that got airwave reception. We changed the channel by going outside and turning the aerial pole while the guy inside yelled out the window when the picture got clear.

I took typing classes in the police academy when we were still pounding on mechanical typewriters filled with carbon paper. Whiteout was a huge technological breakthrough.

A4I remember the first “word processor” showing up. I was doing a wiretap application and this new-fangled gizmo saved me an incredible amount of time. When I left the police force, all the detectives were sitting at their desks pecking-out reports on laptops while the steno supervised them, troubleshooting IT stuff.

As a coroner, I saw the first voice-to-text app come in as the pathologists began dictating autopsy reports right while they were cutting. Now, as a blogger, I rely on a number of different software applications to produce content.

Which got me thinking…

I opened Zapier’s list of over five hundred compatible apps and went through it to see how many I either use or have used.

Twenty-seven.

Me, the iceman of the internet, is familiar with twenty-seven of these apps. Here’s the list:

A5Evernote, MailChimp, Twitter, Dropbox, Facebook, RSS, WordPress, Linkedin, OneDrive, MS Office, GoToWebinar, PayPal, AWeber, OneNote, YouTube, Amazon, Pinterest, Reddit, SumoMe, EBay, Excel, Google Adwords, Google Analytics, Google +, LeadPages, Outlook, and Sharepoint.

I also just got a free download of the Scrivener writing software. I’ve heard so many good things about Scrivener from other writers and I’m looking forward to learning this app as well—particularly its ability to convert Word.docs into Mobi and ePub formats—as I have a pile of these eBook conversions coming up. I’m betting once the learning curve is done, Scrivener is going to really pay back in time… and time is money.

Makes me wonder how the over four hundred and seventy-three other apps that Zapier interfaces with might make the writing life easier and more productive.

I guess I’ll just have to thaw.